By May, the Protestants had already lost political power there. Sinn Fein politicians are now calling for a unity referendum. / Census in Northern Ireland: Catholics in the majority for first time
That was slightly more than the census ten years ago. However, the number of people who see themselves as Protestant or raised as a Protestant dropped significantly from 48 percent to 43.5 percent. 9.3 percent do not feel they belong to any religion, compared to 5.6 percent in 2011. 1.5 percent belong to other denominations.
Sinn Fein the strongest party for the first time since May
Religious affiliation was a crucial factor in Northern Ireland‘s decades-long civil war that left thousands dead. It is primarily Protestants who support the union with Great Britain, while Catholics in particular are in favor of reunification with the EU member Republic of Ireland.
Experts had repeatedly pointed out that the number of Catholics was increasing significantly. In the regional elections in May, Sinn Fein was the first Catholic Unionist party to win the most votes. As the referendum also revealed, slightly more people describe themselves as British than as Irish (31.9 to 29.1 percent).
Sinn Fein: “Historical Change” on the Island
In response to the results, Sinn Fein MP John Finucane called on the Irish government to prepare for the “possibility of a unity referendum,” the Belfast Telegraph reports. The division of Ireland was a “failure,” said Finucane. The results of the census are “another clear indication that historical change is taking place on this island and that the diversity of society enriches us all”.
Northern Ireland at the heart of the Brexit dispute
However, it is questionable whether the result will affect the current Brexit dispute regarding the movement of goods between Great Britain and the European Union. At the time, both sides had agreed special rules to prevent a hard border between the province and Ireland. The result was trade problems between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Great Britain therefore wants to terminate the agreement. As the newspaper “Guardian” reported, the British government wants to have the conflict resolved by April. Then US President Joe Biden, whose ancestors were partly Irish and who sharply criticizes the British approach, could travel to the United Kingdom for a state visit on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it was said.